United Way Wants To #Empower(HER)

United Way partners don’t just help us create pathways out of poverty for Angelenos, our partners also inspire and empower us everyday. Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President and CEO of LA Family Housing, is a great example.

Stephanie_with_Children_on_Slide.jpgFor more than 10 years, Stephanie has fought for advancing the development of affordable housing in Los Angeles so our homeless neighbors can receive the support they need. In our in-depth conversation with Stephanie, we learn about how Stephanie not only empowers the community and her family, but how her husband and her children empower her at the same time.

How long have you been involved with LA Family Housing?

I thought you were going to ask how long I’ve been a mom! I’ve been on the team at LA Family Housing for 10 years.

Well, how long have you been a mom?

I’ve been a mom for almost 20 years. I have three kids that are almost 20, almost 18, and 14.

What are some challenges that come with balancing your job with LA Family Housing and your job as a mom?

I’d say the biggest challenge would have to do with not having enough time in the day. But I think that the emotional challenge and intellectual challenge of work comes into our home. I guess I’ve never found it a challenge because my home life and my work life are always very seamless. I think I have a sort of mentoring, maternal, nurturing heart and soul and brain at work and I hope I’m equally nurturing at home. But I think I am.

It sounds like you are tapped into what you can provide in both scenarios as a basis for who you are.

Yes, I think again because I don’t have to have different identities in different places. I might drive home at the end of the day and maybe go to sleep at the end of the night and think, “Gosh, did I talk about my kids too much at work?” And on my way to work I might think, “Did I talk too much about clients over dinner last night?” It really is just a seamless world and my kids have all been engaged and volunteered at LA Family Housing as a family and also as high school kids doing community service. They choose to be at LA Family Housing with their friends and each has developed their own relationship with the organization — not really absent of me but it’s not dependent of me.

That must make you feel proud as a mom.

Yeah, I came home one night and my son — he drives and he’s been volunteering at LA Family Housing with his friends — he said, “Oh, I spoke with Mr. Azizi tonight.” He developed his whole own relationship with this guy, which was pretty amazing. This was a resident of our shelter, who has been homeless for many years. He engaged my son in conversation one night when my son was volunteering in the cafeteria and they learned that they both play water polo. My son does it currently and Mr. Azizi was on the 1958 Arabian National Water Polo team. He was so excited to talk to my son about water polo, and then every time I’d see Mr. Azizi, he’d say, “I want to watch your son play. I want to watch your son play.” I finally arranged to have him brought over to the school to see my son and his team play in a water polo match. It was pretty extraordinary.

You must have an amazing number of memories where your personal and professional life have merged.

There was another moment… this makes me feel emotional. We were under a very tight deadline and we were moving 250 adults from our old shelter and into new housing. It took all staff, all hands on deck. There was this deadline and it was kind of crazy but it’s people’s lives and you’re moving them from one temporary housing to another when their lives are already in turmoil. Our staff was super diligent and intentional and conscientious about this move — so it wasn’t this mass move but it was a one-to-one staff ratio to each client so that we could spend time with them and make sure they were comfortable.

I think I called home my second night in a row to say that I ran out to get food for the staff but I’m going back to the shelter and I won’t be home again tonight. By the time I got back to the shelter, I walk in and my husband and my three kids were there. They were just making beds and doing whatever needed to get done. I’m able to do this work because my kids value it and because I have a real partner in my husband.

Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful, personal story with us. We only have one more question. Obviously your kids are who they are because of you and also because of the work that you do. Do you think that they would be like they are today if you were in a different line of work?

This is a little bit hard to answer because I don’t think I would be who I am if I weren’t in this line of work. They are who they are because of my husband and I, and our extended family. I think we all live our lives with intention and gratitude and a recognition that if you have certain gifts, you need to share them.

I grew up in a socially active and politically engaged family. In some ways, I think my kids take it for granted that I do what I do because they also see my parents. My parents are a big part of my kids’ life. They’ve been to events where my parents might be honored for something they’ve done in their community, so I think my kids just think this is in their DNA because they see this being generational.